Things are a little crazy right now. With a coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, many of us find that our daily activities have been limited. For others, their communities are in a complete lockdown. When we first were told to stay home, it was a nice chance for many of us to rest up from the daily grind, maybe sleep in a little later, catch up on our favorite streaming shows, or indulge in a hobby we never seemed to have time for. But after being cooped up for a while, a case of “cabin fever” can start to set in.
This is the time of year we want to be out of the house enjoying the Spring weather. Instead, it seems all we can do is sit at home and watch news reports that are dominated by updates of the coronavirus outbreak, while our bodies atrophy from our sedentary routine. It seems that conditions are just right for us to turn into a pessimistic couch potato.
With our mental and physical health at stake, we want to go outside. We want to break a sweat. Instead of being anxious over the state of the world, we want to do something to make it better. Fortunately, there are activities that can address all of these concerns. Cleanups are the multi-pronged solution to these problems.
Why do cleanups during COVID-19?
Cleanups will rejuvenate our planet as well as our minds and bodies while making our corner of the world a little better. If you want to get some exercise while you are out there, try a type of cleanup developed by Erik Ahström he dubbed plogging. It will give your body and mind the boost you need. But what is it?
Have you ever been out walking or doing some other exercise and noticed a piece of trash along your route? Did you pick it up and dispose of it afterward? Then you were plogging. In a nutshell, it is picking up litter while exercising. Plus, it provides a great workout during your cleanup.
Cleanups can be done anywhere, from beaches and hiking trails to city streets and local parks.
But can cleanups help us when we are feeling down because of social isolation? Of course, they can. One way is by taking part in the #trashtag challenge. Started by Steven Reinhold, #trashtag is a great way to share your efforts with other like-minded people. Snap a picture before and after your cleanup to showcase what you accomplished. Then post it on social media and tag it with #trashtag or #trashtagchallenge. By sharing and interacting with others, it will make your cleanup a social experience. It is also a great way to get others involved. And seeing how much litter is collected will make others more mindful of how they dispose of their garbage.
Cleanups and coronavirus safety
Of course, there is a serious virus out there. With that in mind, cleanups should be done thoughtfully and in harmony with the latest health guidelines. If officials in your area advise that outdoor activity is permissible, then cleanups can be done safely as long as a few precautions are taken.
For starters, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends staying home if you have symptoms such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. And even if you have mild symptoms, like a headache or a slightly runny nose, then you should sit this one out for now. You can be out there with the rest of us once you feel better.
For everyone else, feel free to go out and smell that spring air. But stay away from other people though. “Social distancing” has become a hot new term, but it is still one of the best ways to avoid transmission of the disease. WHO recommends one meter or three feet, while the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that COVID-19 can be transmitted at a distance of as much as six feet. Maintaining that much space should be easy to do. Just be mindful as you pass by other people. And if you have a cleanup partner that is not living in your household, you will have to maintain the recommended distance from them as well. Instead, you can get lost in your own thoughts during a solo cleanup, or you can plan one for your family.
While social distancing will help protect us from airborne transmission, the virus can also be transmitted when we come in contact with a contaminated surface and then touch our face. While it is true that we will not find many doorknobs, handles, or telephones outside, we should still be vigilant about touching benches, gates, park equipment, and other public surfaces. And regardless of the coronavirus outbreak, we are out picking up trash. So practice good hygiene. Use gloves and possibly some other device to avoid touching the litter directly. Bag your trash and dispose of properly when finished. Of course, do not touch your face, and be sure to wash your hands afterward.
Stay safe during your cleanup and remember to participate in the #trashtag challenge by posting before and after photos and using the hashtag #trashtag.
Cleanups boost morale
During this time of crisis, we may feel that we have limited control over what is going on in the world. But keeping our streets, trails, parks, and beaches clean and free of trash gives us back the power to make positive changes. Engaging in an activity with purpose is vital to maintain optimum mental health, as well. Flowers and neighbors are important. Humanitarian efforts—no matter the scale—like planting trees, cleaning our surroundings, and spreading positivity help to create and foster a more polite world for us to share. In addition to the improved mood we get from fresh air, sunshine, and exercise-induced endorphins, we will also feel uplifted, knowing that we did something good for the planet.
If there is a silver lining to these troubling times, it is that since fewer people are in public spaces right now, the areas that we clean up will stay that way for much longer. Then, when restrictions are eased, everyone can come out to clean streets, parks, and trails. In the meantime, cleanups will keep us fit and sane.
April 22, 2020 is the 50thanniversary of Earth Day, and it is a great time to get started. So get out there, have fun, and remember to be safe. Combine your cleanup with plogging for some exercise. And remember to participate in the #trashtag challenge, so you can share your efforts and motivate others to join in.
We are all doing what we can to get through this pandemic. But while we wait for a sense of normalcy to return, we still need to take care of our minds and bodies, and our environment too. Cleanups are a great way to accomplish all three.
Kyle C. Street is a copywriter for outdoor recreation brands. After years of backcountry travel and search-and-rescue work, which included technical rope rescues, swiftwater rescue, and search-and-recovery diving, he transitioned into a freelance writing career.